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Raiders vs. Patriots: Area of Concern

New England’s pass rush can ruin Las Vegas’ offensive gameplan

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals
New England Patriots pass rusher Matthew Judon is a terrorizing quarterback hunter.
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Nearly double. That’s the stark difference in the amount of sacks the New England Patriots racked up so far compared to the Las Vegas Raiders — which makes it the glaring area of concern for this Sunday’s matchup in Allegiant Stadium.

Bill Belichick’s Patriots defense is on quite the rampage terrorizing opposing quarterbacks for a total of 45 sacks. That count is third behind only the Philadelphia Eagles (49) and Dallas Cowboys (48). Patrick Graham’s Raiders defense, in comparison, has 25 total sacks, good enough to tie for 20th in the league (along with the Pittsburgh Steelers).

Unlike Graham deploying only one bona fide — or more accurately productive — pass rusher in Maxx Crosby (11.5 sacks), Belichick unleashes Matthew Judon (14.5), Josh Uche (10) and Deitrich Wise Jr. (6.5) against opposing offenses. It’s an outside-in pass rush that’s truly mulitple and can be deployed in various alignments. And that often leads to a pick-your-poison-type decision by blocking schemes. It’s something Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels spoke a length about during his mid-week media session.

“They have depth, they’re physical, they’re big inside. They’re long. They have a lot of guys that play on the edge: (Matthew) Judon, (Josh) Uche, (Anfernee) Jennings,” McDaniels noted. “I mean, they move (Ja’Whaun) Bentley out there sometimes. Deatrich Wise (Jr.) is out there. So, there’s a lot of different bodies that they will throw at you in their alignments and in their different defensive packages.”

Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots
New England Patriots pass rusher Josh Uche flexes after a sack. The young and talented quarterback hunter has 10 sacks on the season.
Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

McDaniels is all too aware of New England’s penchant to put its players in the best possible position to succeed — especially on defense. Whether it’s deploying traditional formations or new ones to take confuse the opposing offense, nothing is off the table for Belichick and his defensive staff. By any means necessary is a real philosophy in New England and it’s the defense that’s carrying the Patriots so far.

Combine the Patriots moving defenders around the formation with the physical tools each pass rusher has and it’s going to be a tall task for the Raiders offensive line to keep quarterback Derek Carr clean. In fact, hearing McDaniels talk about New England’s pass rush is eerily reminiscent of what was said about Al Davis’ Raiders.

“It’s not only a challenge to handle their physicality, their length, their pass rush — they do a tremendous job in their pass rush games executing the things that they’re trying to do — but it’s also a challenge individually for our guys because you have to get familiar not with just one guy that’s going to line up across from you but it might be three or four different people based on the spacing that they choose to use with their fronts, or the different packages that they’re in, McDaniels said.

Like his head coach, Carr spoke highly of New England’s defense.

“Oh, man. They’re very powerful inside. They do a great job setting the edge on defense, trying to take away those edge runs and those kinds of things. They’re really good at that,” Carr said. “They do a good job in the two-gap world, taking on double teams. Like I said, powerful guys on the inside with quick, twitchy, strong guys on the outside that can set an edge, can get to the quarterback, can jump inside, can go outside and go through you. Very versatile linebackers in that sense. They can drop, they can rush, they can cover. They can do a lot of things.

“And so, very multiple, and whenever you have good players like they have with arguably the best coach to ever do it scheming them up and put them in positions to do things, it’s a tough task.”

Las Vegas is dealing with some shifts on the offensive line due to injury with right Alex Bars missing practice and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor playing but not 100 percent. This can compound the Raiders effort to stymie or quell the Patriots ferocious pass rush. That all said, that offensive line is tied fifth for least sacks allowed (23) with the San Francisco 49ers. And McDaniels is no slouch play caller. He can dial up quick plays to help ramp up the Raiders sense of urgency in the face of a stout Patriots defensive line.

But will he?